Something we have always wanted to do is swim with whale sharks and for whatever reason this has evaded us in the trip so far. In the Philippines we thought it was too far to travel and we questioned the ethics of the tours involving whale sharks there… then when we had booked to see them in Mexico for Ryan’s birthday a hurricane meant that the port was shut for the entire time we were on Isla Mujeres!
We had one last chance to see them – the day before we flew home! It would mean getting up at 4.30am and taking a taxi, a local colectivo bus, another taxi and a ferry before getting on the smaller boat to get to the whale shark feeding area – about 5 hours in total. But we were willing to give it a try! It was touch and go the night before with the port being shut (again!) – but at 7pm we got the all clear that the boats would indeed be leaving the next day – FINALLY we were going to see whale sharks and it would be the last thing we would do on our year away (talk about cutting it fine!) We just had our fingers crossed that we would be able to spot some the next day…
Whale sharks are sharks – not whales – and are the largest fish on the planet. These gentle giants (growing to up to 40 feet and weighing 20 tons) are completely harmless and feed on minuscule plankton. They are unique because of their size but also for their spotty patterns, which are different for each individual. They like warm tropical seas and congregate in key feeding areas between latitudes 30 degrees north and 35 degrees south, taking large migrations to follow the plankton around these key feeding areas.
They tend to be more prevalent during the full moon and fortunately the timing of our trip coincided with this. We estimated there must have been hundreds of whale sharks in the area where we were – and a few surprise extra guests too…!
We did a total of 4 jumps off the boat and into the ocean, seeing multiple sharks in the water on each jump. It was pretty scary on the boat, about to jump in and contemplating what you were about to do, but in the water we were surprisingly calm and it was easy to relax and enjoy the experience (although the sharks are quite fast and keeping up with them can be a challenge – especially when you are trying to film as well!)
We spotted a few surprise guests as well – huge manta rays (about 3 meters across) in the water with the whale sharks. At one point one was headed straight for us, diving at the last minute and going under our feet before rising again to the surface. Amazing!
The experience was everything we had hoped and more and was the perfect, memorable end to our year long trip away.
That evening we had time to meet some friends, Mickey and Amanda, from back home who were also passing through Cancun. We caught up over a few tequilas and margaritas before catching our flight home the following day (with slightly sore heads!) A great end to a perfect day and a fantastic year long adventure. It was time to go home…